Friday, August 27, 2010

The Wiz

In the early 1920's many young affluent Americans became expatriates of une generation predue in Paris. They were contributors of an avant garde lifestyle nurturing the pre-adolescence of Rock 'n' Roll. It was a self imposed exile- from America- to escape the confines brought on in this country by puritanical proponents of the restrictive Eighteenth Amendment. The City of Lights allowed the voice of freedom to expand unrestricted from the measures of America's Prohibition, and the climate of political prejudice that was the aftermath of a recently congressional appealed Sedition Act.

Two of the characters from Benson's House shared a two bedroom apartment, during this era, in the area of Montparnasse on the left bank of the Seine River. Elizabeth Benson was the renowned Impressionist artist, and the prodigal granddaughter of the family's matriarch, Sarah Taggart Benson. Her childhood best friend, Danielle Watson, was the alluringly attractive President of Chariot Records. They shared the apartment together for five years and were inseparable during their time spent in Paris.

They were expected to be present at a gathering with the new brigade of displaced Americans in Paris for lunch at Café de le Paix. Their arrival was delayed by Elizabeth’s insistence they first attend the cinema to see Lon Chaney as The Hunchback of Norte Dame.

I cannot wait to view movies with sound.” Danielle determined, while the two girls were seated in the backseat of the taxi, heading for the right bank cafe after the show.
“Dialogue will enhance the experience.”
“Do you think so?” Elizabeth speculated. “I believe voice will restrain the necessity of image and restrict its universal appeal. Portrayed actions can be understood in any language. A dialogue restricted by the language- from where the film was made- will only confuse the foreign listener.”
“But words give accent to expression.” Danielle insisted. “One can argue- il est le chanteur pas le morceau- which makes the performance memorable. Yet, the recorded sound can effectively entertain without motion, causing the listener to create an impression that can replace the singer’s physical appearance. It cannot be done the opposite way; you cannot enjoy a mute singer.”
“I have witnessed the street mimes perform so effectively many times.” Elizabeth offered.
Touche,” Danielle conceded after some consideration.
Both girls were in defense of their chosen medium- Elizabeth supporting sight and Danielle sound.

It was an argument that would not have been prompted, had it not been for the advances of sight and sound, brought on by the inventions of The Wizard of Menlo Park!

Thomas Edison's inventions did more than merely provide the catalysis for the modern age; his inventions created the mechanisms for the development of pop culture.The phonograph and the motion-picture camera allowed sight and sound to become a demonstrative devise of subjective thought, entertaining the viewer and listener with persuasive allure.

The piano had been the cornerstone of America's home entertainment throughout the post Civil War era. Shortly after the turn of the century, the phonograph changed everything. Wax cylinders inscribed with the songs of the popular musicians began to out sell sheet music published to be played on the family pianos. The self replicated performance of a popular ballad was now being heard by authentic performances.The new invention now allowed a family in Atlanta, Georgia to hear Enrico Caruso sing Domine Deus from Trinity Church in Camden, New Jersey. It allowed the mid westerner to hear Louis Mitchell sing Ain't We Got Fun from a performance at Casino de Paris(16 rue De Clichy), in Paris, France. The common man was uniting, globally, to the new fraternity of pop.

Much like the invention of the automobile, the demand for the product led to a consumer blitz, only to be compromised by radio in the 1920's. Edison initially refused to manufacture radio, citing an inferior sound quality in the product. He eventually conceded to the demands of his children, but the manufacturing of the product came too late. The stock market crash of 1929 abated demand for all consumer products, and Edison died a year later.

A Great Depression followed the stock market crash and the death of Thomas Edison. Many sought to escape the toils of their daily existences in the movie houses that had evolved from Edison's kinetoscope invention. Most theaters played films non stop, and the price of admission allowed a person to stay in their seats as long as they wanted. The movie houses became a place to allow the common man to rejuvenate his body and soul under the soothing glow of projector light, as the stories of a promising future played out before the audience upon the big screen. Talking films were a blend of Edison's greatest accomplishments, concocting an intriguing potion of sight and sound.

Imagine how many recorded lyrics, provocative soliloquies, and insightful discussions proceeded Edison's first recorded recital of: "Mary had a little lamb." His inventions were truly the didaskophone(portable teacher). They became the medium to advance the songs of freedom, speaking to the common sense of the common man.It allowed a medium to divert the restrictions of oppression and graduate an intellectual spirit that continues in the 21st century. Edison was unquestionably one of the pioneering contributors to a culture that led to the music that became Rock 'n' Roll.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Dumbifying of America

Many consider the Jonathan Franzen appearance, on the front cover of this weeks Time Magazine, a portent to the new trend in literature and a departure from specialization. Will cultural enterprise acknowledge the movement, or will they simply dismiss the anticipation of Freedom as insignificant hype in order to continue pandering to the trite formulas of mediocrity? One must be optimistic in believing the time has come today for the industry to begin catering to what is necessary for the intellectual strength of our society, and not continue to fuel what they believe drives the purchasing demands of the American consumer.

It appears through my observations that the people are longing for enlightenment, and are starved for substantive entertainment. They've grown tired of sitting at home, clicking through channels, and finding nothing of interest to view. They've become pessimistic in the industry's ability to produce entertainment beyond projects surrounding twenty something males obsessing with potty humor- "Dude! You just said balls!"

Even when a phenom like Twilight unnaturally occurs, the industry plagiarizes the concept like hip hop samplers and claim the creations as there own. I'm sure Bram Stoker is turning in his grave with the tedious adoptions of the plots involving girl meets vampire, girl and vampire fall in love, vampire becomes chivalrous of girl.

Also- this just in- the people distinguish political pungent spin, mad ad hype, and corporate executive perjury as untruths fabricated to endorse self served agendas, and see no reason why they can't do the same. Is this the type of leadership that truly serves America? The obtainment of avarice at any price is considered offensive to the values of the common man. Most Americans acknowledge this and have been screaming for truth, sensibility, and quality in literature for way too long. Trust me- if you publish quality, they will read!

We must put an end to the Dumbifying of America. The trend suggests our cultural providers are out of touch with their markets. With all of the mediums available for the common man's leisurely entertainment, why are the efforts of so many talented new writers subjected to restriction and denial. I was told to keep faith with the industry, and be confident it will seek appealing craftsmanship. However, the redundant task of submission to deaf ears inevitably leads me to uncertainty. It is why so many have conceded and are attempting to market their projects on their own.

I feel, unfortunately, that their success will eventually topple the current structure of the industry. This is also a condition that plagues the record industry. Some say that the downfall is an inevitable condition of the Internet. I can only suggest that modern history has taught us that the rewards of progress are reaped by those that adapt. Think outside the box; the times they are a changin'!

Good literature evokes the reader with demonstrable theme development. Publishers should be excited to find the core elements of this in every project and want to contribute to the enhancement. I long for a Maxwell Perkins to help edit my works and provide a collaboration that will carry the reader on a fantastic journey. The protagonist does not have to be a skilled sleuth, cagey spy, or boy wizard. The common man does not need to always live vicariously in these characters; they need to be reminded that they are the true champions in America. Their voice is found in the stories of their lives.

This is the goal I had in mind when I wrote Benson's House. Soon the story will be revealed.

Next week I will profile one of the influences in my book, who is also one of the most influential architects to the music that became Rock 'n' Roll- The Wizard of Menlo Park!

The line it is drawn- the curse it is cast
The slow one now will later be fast
As the present now will later be past
The order is rapidly fadin'
And the first one now will later be last
For the times they are a changin'

Bob Dylan

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Songs to Aging Children Revisited

He was to be the last performer of the Sunday show, but the rain delays prevented his appearance until Monday morning. By then most of the congregation had left. However, those that stayed were rewarded by being the first to hear Hendrix's rendition of our national anthem. That moment forever altered America's impressions of the Francis Scott Key composition.

The version has since become iconic to our modern life style. It has become a contemporary representation of America's sometimes ardent arrogance to pridefully exploit its individual interpretations of freedom. The instrumental has been used regionally to sell American trucks and to begin our nation's athletic events. It has been used in campaign advertisements and movie soundtracks. However, on Monday morning, August 18, 1969, Jimi Hendrix's flamboyant guitar performance of The Star Spangled Banner was performed to exemplify the chaos and violence of a decade that was about to end.

The 30,000 members left among the congregation- the ones that stayed for the duration-were standing before the plywood security wall a few yards from the stage. Behind them lay a barren, muddy, wasteland, pox marked with the scattering of debris. The pasture field of Max Yasgur’s dairy farm now resembled the aftermath of the final mêlée on the battlefield of Gettysburg. The stage where Hendrix stood appeared like the one Lincoln stood upon to deliver his famous address four months following that conflict.

Over a hundred years had elapsed since the days Justin Benson witnessed both monumental events in American history. Lincoln’s speech was short in length, but large in the stature of its implications. In less than five minutes, Abraham Lincoln encapsulated “a new birth of freedom… of the people, by the people, for the people.”

Jimi Hendrix was about to do the same with the strings of his guitar.

The great, great grandson of Justin Benson was emotionally stung by the first cords struck. Hendrix had ended: Voodoo Child (Slight Return), and moved into a rendition of The Star Spangled Banner. The “blessing of justice” was forever redefined. No one saluted; no one cupped their hands across their hearts. They stood mesmerized by the visualizations created in the tonal clamoring of sounds depicting the atrocities of the 1960’s. Found within the third stanza, surrounding the highlighted notes of our national anthem, Hendrix latched out with haunting reverberations.
His guitar swooshed like the sound of high-pressure water hoses tossing the black high school students to the ground, for their stand against inequality, in the schools of Birmingham, Alabama. It wailed like the gruesome screams of the eight student nurses, tortured to death by Richard Speck in Chicago, Illinois. The background drums reported like the shots that killed NAACP field secretary, Medgar Evers in Jackson, Mississippi; like the shots fired from the Texas School Book Depository, slaying President John F. Kennedy in Dallas, Texas; the shots that gunned down Malcolm X on the stage of Manhattan’s Audubon Ballroom; the shots fire by Charles Whitman, killing fourteen and wounding thirty two, from the tower on the campus of Texas University; the shots that assassinated Dr. Martin Luther King in Memphis, Tennessee, and the shots that killed Senator Robert F. Kennedy in the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, California.
Hendrix’s guitar chords screamed like the villagers in the hamlet of Mylai, Vietnam, massacred by orders from Lieutenant William Calley. They rang out like the anti- aircraft fire against the CIA invaders of Cuba during the Bay of Pigs. The notes blazed like the sound of napalm bombs annihilating the villages of Vietnam, and wailed like the sound of ambulance and patty wagon sirens echoing throughout Grant Park during the police riots of the 1968 Democratic Convention. The history of an American decade was being recited by the sounds of Jimi Hendrix’s guitar, and as the third stanza concluded, he reflected his respects by plucking the first few notes of Taps.
Sarah removed her spectacles to wipe the stream of tears running down her face. She kept them off to avoid watching the performance through rose colored glasses as Hendrix completed the final stanza of his brief tributary by striking the cords, with a fanfare for the common man, then merged into his song: Purple Haze, and an improvisation that lasted a few more minutes. He then thanked the audience and left the stage. No announcements followed- the festival ended abruptly.

Jimi Hendrix died of drug related causes just over a year later in a London hotel room. It was another indication that our generational acceptance of drugs was misguided. The governing innocents of the common sense, and the confidence that brotherhood would overcome all destructive measures, was beginning to be effectively denounced by authoritative institutions longing to regain control of their aging children. The hippie ideal was beginning to be successfully put to question.

Forty one years have elapsed seen the spontaneity of that weekend provoked the powers of the people. Forty one years and the voice of Woodstock seems to only speak nostalgically for a time that no longer exists. Benson's House speaks to those bygone eras when the songs of freedom were accepted by the common sense and the words and music were shared by the common man.Perhaps it is time to resurrect the beliefs of that era and stand for the rights and privileges of everyman; perhaps it is time to get back to the garden!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Song To Aging Children Come

The melodic variations of Blues, Jazz, and Rock ‘n’ Roll are nascent music styles developing from the refrains of slave songs. Each genre shares a common nativity with the despondent outcries of the plantation fieldworkers, and a common heredity to the notes once used to distract their consciousness from the toils of arduous labor. Over the years the distinct musical styles sprouted as an elan of separate individuality; graduating with a detached fortitude of confident declarations. For over a hundred years the music evolved from the genesis like the stages of a developing flower. Then, while in full bloom, an infusion took place, creating a hybrid of sounds and a melody supporting the songs of freedom.

This is the first paragraph of the 23 chapter of Benson's House. A hundred years had progressed throughout the story, and the songs of freedom- once separate genres of music- had blended together to create a new metamorphosis of sound. The words still spoke to the common sense of everyman- the lesson unrestricted by race or religion- with the songs speaking to a youthful expression of individuality and of unified independence. Rock 'n' Rollers had electrified the Blues. They had initiated jams, influenced by improvisational Jazz artists- like saxophonist John Coltrane- creating a hybrid of sound that was celebrated for an extended weekend at a place called The Woodstock Music and Art Fair.

Justin Benson's great, great grandson was there. Christopher Benson was the head of what had become Chariot Records, and was considered to be a formative influence on top forty entertainment. He arrived on the Sunday of the final full day.

“You boys buckled up?” Christopher heard the helicopter pilot say over the head set he was placing over his ears. The cones muffled the drone of the whirling copter blades.
“You know where you’re going?” Christopher said into the mouthpiece.
“Hell, I’ve been running folks to the festival all week end long. You boys are gett’n’ here a little late ain’t ya?” The pilot asked as the engine began to whine, lifting the aircraft from the tarmac.
Within a few minutes the outer reaches of the gathering took shape below them. Cars were seen abandoned on the sides of roads, as hordes of the children of God were walking down the road, following in a mass attempt to loss the smog of their conventional existence at a Rock ‘n’ Roll haven of epic proportions. Soon campers, trailers, and camping tents appeared in fields spotted beneath the haze of smoldering camp fires. They flew just above the pine trees lining the bank of a lake, where Christopher could detect the splashing of bathers off the shoreline. Several larger tents passed rapidly below them before the back of monolithic stage appeared.
Then- in a flash- they were revealed; a blotch upon the earth of a half a million kids, sitting on a sloped field in congregation before the stage. The helicopter banked at left intervals, flying around the parameter, as the eye of the sun shone down upon the Woodstock Nation. Christopher was stricken by the multitudes. The group was three times the size of those attending The Songs of Freedom Concert in DC. He felt magnetically drawn to the gathering, as the helicopter began its decent and landed on a heliport about a quarter mile from the right rear side of the stage.
“Don’t take any of the brown acid.” The pilot laughingly warned, as Christopher and Michael climbed out of the helicopter.
“Don’t worry.” Christopher shouted in response, stooping to move clear of the revolving blades.

Forty one years have lapsed since that weekend. Today some will certainly consider a memorial to the legacy as a reverence to hedonism. Yet, for many of my generation, it was a moment in time that represented our generations unity and individual values. Many a Baby Boomer came into being that summer, aspiring to change the world with civil disobedience.

In many ways the festival celebrated the end of a decade that changed the course of America's social behavior. Woman's accepted use of the pill challenged institutional tenets on sex; the Civil Rights Movement altered the segregationist restrictions on race; the Anti War Movement stood up against the proliferation of the military industrial complex, and the lyrics of the music kept reminding our common sense that the changes were necessary and correct.

When Christopher awoke he was alone in the dark tent. He felt for his jeans, and placed them on while arching his back against the blanket beneath him. He found Sarah just outside the tent. Her form was barely noticeable in the dark light. She was covered in a Sioux star quilt, sitting on a mound of pine needles, cradling herself as she rocked to the music, with her arms wrapped around her legs, and her chin placed firmly against her knees. David Crosby and Graham Nash’s voices were united in the song: Guinevere. Their harmonic intonations sounded like the trills of gliding eagles stalking the night sky.
“Ya know what makes this event so monumental? She stated as he approached.
“What?” Christopher asked.
“It occurred spontaneously under the guidance of conciliation. There was no condemnation; no willful attempt to wage authority with bellicose intent. There was no power struggle. People were not commanded. They were merely warned about bad drugs, or were asked to lookout for their neighbors.”
“Everything was offered to the guidance of the common sense.” Christopher interjected.
“Well, yeah- right on!” Sarah agreed while shaking her head. “It empowered the people because they all share the common sense.”

In the days to follow I will offer a description of the final act on the final day of the festival. It was a performance that artistically modified America's psyche by altering the traditional rendition of our nation's national anthem.

Through the windless wells of wonder
By the throbbing light machine
In a tea leaf trace or under
Orders from the king and queen
Songs to aging children come
Aging children, I am one.

Joni Mitchell

Monday, August 2, 2010

Resurrection from the Mind- Forged Manacles

Although the saga of the family legend is often exaggerated,through generations of tavern discourse,the origin of the story is never modified.

It is said that a boy came from out of the wilderness and wandered into a recruiting camp for the Union Army in October of 1861. When asked his name for the roster he responded by stating he was "just Ben's son." He was enlisted and given the slave name of Justin Benson. No one knew at the time that the blond haired kid, who would one day fight on the Battlefield of Gettysburg, would become one of the pioneering promoters and producers of the music that became Rock 'n' Roll.

It is the music that spoke to the generations of a hundred years, with meanings cultivated thought a lineage derived from three dominate philosophies. They are the songs of our lives; the songs of our ancestors; the songs of our children. The birth of the Blues was the beginning of pop music and provided the soundtrack on a journey towards the spirited acceptance of freedom.

From the Age of Enlightenment came the idea that reason was the bases of authority. The acceptance of this tenant was adamant among its followers. It spurred universal revolution and became the incentive to the principles of America's Declaration of Independence. Enlightenment transcended the boundaries of authoritative restraint and challenged the conventions of political power. It also served the thinking of rationalists who saw slavery as a violation of the rights of man. Quakers in this country took a stand against this practice and the Abolitionist Movement was formed. The songs of freedom were given life.

A second philosophy, which also took a disobedient stance against authority, was forged in New England as a protest against the doctrines of the Unitarian Church. Transcendentalism argued that spiritual intuition transcended empirical data. Its findings challenged the formulas of science and took Enlightenment one step further. It proclaimed reason as a instinctive intuition held common with everyman. A conviction to the common sense was acknowledged. The songs of freedom began to speak to the mutually held emotions of mankind.

The music led the masses in believing that the common sense could direct mankind, and that the institutions of authority were unnecessary. The question was raised and the answer seemed prevalent- authority was not necessary for the good of the people; authority was necessary for the control of the people. Civil Disobedience began, and a power struggle was created that continues today. Music and art have always been in the forefront of this controversy because of their universal acceptance by our common sense. the songs and images speak to the struggles for equality and fair treatment of everyman.

The final philosophy contributing to this paradigm was seen in the works of William Blake. He not only believed institutional authority was unnecessary, he believed it deliberately destroyed the foundations of creative thinking. He believed imagination was where the common sense was cultivated, and was cognisant of the liberating powers of the creative process. Through the generations, institutions of power, fearful of losing their grips on public sentiment, have always condemned creativity as a contributing element to heresy.

Blake recognized how this authoritative phobia was crippling the intellectual expansion of his kinsman. He saw them as being enslaved by pungency's that repressed the reactors of consciousness. Authority was controlling the masses by subverting the common sense. An example is heard in the second verse of London from Songs of Experience:

In every cry of every man,
In every infant's cry of fear,
In every voice, in every ban,
The mind-forged manacles I hear:

These relevant principals moved the direction of creative thinking in the mid 1860's.
In defiance of Victorian etiquette, a young woman artist became the rage of New York's society.

It was thought the promotion was used to merely hype the aspiring artistic talents of the wife of Justin Benson. Her agent endorsed her art as having the ability to transform images of pastoral innocence into the corrupted urban settings of New York City. The concept grew and became a movement known as Urban Romanticism. Its disciples soon adopted the guitar music they heard while frequenting the basement tavern of Benson's house. They celebrated the music as a contributing element to the Urban Romantic Movement. The guitar styling was provided by a elderly emancipated slave, and was seen as a symbol of a genuine pastoral transformation into the urban setting of Greenwich Village. The genesis of modern music began. The rebellion against conventional authority started.